Those disappointed by an excess of faerie queens and shape-shifters of The Decemberists' last outing will find sweet simplicity on the band's latest, The King is Dead. Frontman Colin Meloy's flirtations with concept albums and 15-minute prog-rock epics are nowhere to be found here. Instead, the troop has returned with their folksiest effort yet. It's almost a proper country album.
That shouldn't be too surprising. The Portland, Ore., rockers have always been a folk band at heart. But that sound is much more pronounced here, complete with lap slide guitar, soaring fiddles and some serious harmonica. A stark contrast to the pseudo-metal shredding in 2009's Hazards of Love, the band pulls off the tight-but-not-too-tight play-style effortlessly.
And that rustic emphasis produces some of the more memorable inclusions of the band's back catalogue, from sweet seasonal reflections to energetic rabble-rousers. "Don't Carry It All" is a powerful album-opener, while "Rox In The Box" is as strong a single as the band has ever produced.
The only real disappointment here is Meloy's comparative timidness. The Hazards of Love was one of his weaker efforts, but his willingness to explore territory as audacious as rock opera melodrama was impressive. As a follow-up, Kings is satisfying but ultimately safe.